On the Temporal Definition of Disasters: The Need for Complexity and Balance

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Eric HSU, University of South Australia, Australia
It is widely recognized within the field of disasters research that disasters have both immediate and long-term societal impacts. However, some sociological accounts have tended to exclude slow-moving disruptive phenomena from their definitions of disasters by framing disasters as only rapidly occurring events. These accounts have warned against overly broad descriptions of disasters, as they run the risk of rendering the term opaque and meaningless. While this concern is well-founded, I find that there are ways of theorizing disasters as involving a protracted component that do not completely threaten the wholesale integrity of the concept. In this paper, I put forth a theoretical framework of disasters, which encapsulates—but also differentiates between—social disruptions that are focused as well as ones that are more temporally diffuse. This in turn calls into question some of the existing strategies for how to approach socially unsettling phenomena such as global climate change or droughts that unfold over protracted periods of time. In particular, I trouble the claim that gradually occurring disturbances to the social order ought to be instead regarded as social or ecological problems.